Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer in Chico

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I’m not blogging a position for nor against Wal-Mart, but I am providing some observations for consideration and discussion.

We’ve already had a Wal-Mart like superstore that offered groceries, pharmacy, hardware, clothing, and dry goods, all under one roof in Chico, It was called Fred Meyer and was where Lowe’s sits now.

The Fred Meyer store was almost identical to the Wal-Mart supercenters that are in the midwest and eastern US, which is what Wal Mart is planning for it’s proposed north and south Chico superstores.

The Fred Meyer Chico store was too far away from it’s supply base in Oregon, and the only store in California, making its supply logistics quite expensive. Fred Meyer corporate management planned to expand further into Northern California, but never implemented the plan, esentially orphaning the store in Chico and it was too expensive to keep supplying. Thats why it failed, not because locals disliked it.

For everybody whom fears Wal-Mart will destroy Chico’s retail economy, I’d point out that we survived the creation and demise of Fred Meyer just fine and there is little difference between the two chain stores concepts, layouts, and offerings.

I don’t normally shop at Wal-Mart, but thats mostly because I don’t like the design of the Chico store. It always feels cramped and dirty to me.

Since I travel the US frequently to setup weather for smaller TV stations around the USA, I often visit smaller towns. In many of these, I have found Wal-Mart supercenters and I’ve visited at least five by now ranging from Georgia to Texas, to Indiana.

What I’ve found is that these tend to be very much like what Chico once had in the form of the Fred Meyer store…many store types rolled into one. In fact one store had an almost identical layout to how the Fred Meyer store in Chico used to be.

The most recent Wal-Mart superstore I visited was in Toccoa, GA about 120 miles northeast of Atlanta, Georgia. It was brand new, only a couple of months old.

Much like the proposed location in north Chico, the one in Toccoa was on the outskirts of town, and was the first thing you’d see coming into town. However, it had one difference: It was at a crossroad for two significant highways serving the area…think of the Highway 99/32 intersection to get the idea. It was clean, modern, and well landscaped. Add to the mix a wide storm drainage channel within 100 feet of the main intersection, plus two bridges over it, a stoplight, and you might see how this was a complex traffic problem just waiting to happen.

I kind of figured that would be a traffic nightmare, so I purposely visited around 5 PM (I was in Toccoa 3 days) to see if the Wal-Mart caused more traffic troubles than you’d expect. To my surprise, I couldn’t see any big traffic problems, but then again I didn’t have any history to compare to, so my observation was a single data point.

But I did notice this- The Wal-Mart parking lot had special inramps and outramps to the highway, allowing merging rather than stop and go, and it appears that the entire highway intersection was new as well. There was also a new back entrance that crossed the drainage channel in addition to the on/off ramps for the main highway.

So what could have been a major traffic hassle seemed to go smoothly, even during rush hour, but again I had no previous exerience to compare to. All I could say for certain was that no gridlock was seen, and no major backups or delays.

But, since the intersection appeared new, it seems that the Toccoa City planners/council had demanded that Wal-Mart spend some significant bucks to make that intersection workable, and to add a back door to allow for further mitigating traffic.

The north Chico Wal-Mart proposal could also probably benefit from a “back door” parking lot interchange along North Esplande in addition to the Highway 99/Garner Road interchange.

The City of Chico may benefit from talking to these folks in Toccoa and other cities that have had similar issues with Wal-Mart traffic impact. By doing this, the questions of impact and how Wal-Mart dealt with it can be had, and had wihout the cost of a charette. And, most importantly we’ll know if these types of improvements were offered up front, or if they had to be “extracted by force” from Wal-Mart Corporate Planning.